7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing from Watercolor Painting

I’m taking a break from reading this week to make time for family and some final writing assignments (this is the first time I’ve spent five days straight with my parents and boyfriend since the summer…hallelujah for that!)

So I thought that I would post some lessons this week that I’ve learned about my writing from my time in a watercolor painting class this semester. I took a watercolor class simply to get to full-time status for my final semester of college.
However, I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s been surprisingly influential for my own writing.

1. Be patient.
When you paint with watercolors, it’s often better to make sure a color is dry before you wash over it with another.
Rushing to finish means your work is going to be lacking, and the same is true for writing.
Give yourself time. Is your work getting tired? Lacking that “oomph?” (Yes, that’s the official term.)
Maybe it’s time to move on to something else and come back. Fruitless obsession is going to drive you crazy.

2. It’s not about how well you mimic the subject. It’s about how your piece turns out.
If you’re painting a still life and it turns out super weird-looking but you still like it, it’s a good painting.
If you start with an idea for a poem or story and it doesn’t turn out like you intended but it’s weird and endearing or funky, you’re good.

3. Use stronger pigments than you think you need.
Watercolor is a soft medium. It dries much lighter than it looks when it’s first put on the paper, so you need to start with stronger colors than you intended.
Don’t be afraid to use strong language.
I don’t mean vulgarity. Just intense vocabulary.
Challenge yourself to use words that means something, that stand out. That way they will truly connect with your reader.

4. Plan ahead.
A watercolor painting turns out much better if you plan ahead how to approach it. That doesn’t mean it will turn out like you intend, but a plan makes things go smoothly.
I find this applies well to working on a project, like a collection of poems.
Come up with an overarching idea or theme, however broad, or at least a game plan for how to accomplish what you want to do. It’ll make it seem like a far less daunting task.

5. You often have to mix colors to get the best hues.
Pigments straight from the paint tube are pretty, but they’re not the best colors.
The coolest colors I’ve found, the most interesting and life-like come from playing around with mixing colors.
I think the same is true for using another person’s writing as your writing inspiration.
Yes, David Foster Wallace may have some of the best contemporary fiction (I would agree), but writing exactly like him, using all of his “pigments” means you’re going to write like a second-rate DFW, not a first-rate you.

6. Ground your painting.
If you paint an apple, it can’t be floating in the middle of the page.
It needs shadow, shading to seem realistic. You need the dark tones to ground it.
You can’t write a perfect utopian world. Sure, write love poems. But unless there’s some humanity and darkness in them, they won’t be realistic. Life and writing needs the dark tones.

7. Experiment. Try new techniques.
Sprinkle some salt on the wet pigment to add some texture. Crinkle some Saran Wrap over the page. It’s funky, but it works.
Try new things. Blackout poetry. Write a poem without any nouns. Write a short story in second-person.
Who knows, maybe something cool will happen.

Enjoy some family time this week, friends.
Gain some inspiration wherever you can.
Who knows, maybe you’ll write something fantastic about your crazy uncle.

With thanks,
Abigail Joy


“Re-Seeing”–The Lifeblood of Good Writing

Writing is a reflection of life, I firmly believe that.
No matter if you’re writing fiction, fantasy, biography… the way we write is always a reflection of the way we live.
And the way we live is constantly in flux.

I can’t begin to describe how many changes I have experienced in my life over the past three and a half years. I took a “life-change stress” quiz in a psychology class last week, and I scored high enough to warrant the result of a 50% chance of getting sick due to stress-related causes.

The thing is, though–I don’t see change as a bad thing.
I think it’s actually really good,
and it can mean wonderful things for our writing.

If our lives change so much, so should our writing. Change is hard, but change in writing can often mean forward progress.

This week, I had a class workshop for my full 20-page draft of the chapbook I am working on.
I love the poems I wrote. I know, it’s kind of an understood writerly thing to critique your own writing harshly, but I think these poems are the best I have ever written.
I was nervous to take them to workshop because I didn’t want to sit there while they were critiqued and pulled apart, and exposed to the harshness of possible significant change.

But I was very pleasantly surprised. I ended up with a document full of typed notes with very possible revision suggestions, one of which meant refocusing the theme of my chapbook in a direction that the poems were leaning towards but I didn’t notice it. I felt energized.

GOOD revision, is re-seeing your work from a new perspective. What can I see about my work when I don’t look at it through a lens of it being a finished work, but instead I see it as something in flux, in process, and in need of improvement?
I would dare say you can see a new, fresher work.

My watercolor painting professor always tells us that the art of watercolor is to put down the fewest strokes possible to keep the sparkle of the pigment.

Writing, I think, is the opposite.
Writing that sparkles, that seems fresh and clean, is rarely a first draft, if ever.
Writing like that takes draft after draft, but not only that–it takes re-seeing each draft in a new way so you find the proper mindset through which to view the text, the proper lens that produces the best result.

So be encouraged, you revisers of the cyber-world.
Let’s make our writing sparkle.

Abigail Joy